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Surveillance Capitalism

Avril Haines, Palantir & the Biden Administration

Recent disclosures of enormous fees earned from Wall Street by Joe Biden’s prospective Cabinet and other appointees have focused more on Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary and proposed Secretary of State Blinken, but an especially troubling example is Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence. Haines was paid $180,000 to consult for the data-mining company Palantir, which has raised liberal hackles for providing data and surveillance services to law enforcement, including the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Even more troubling, her affiliation with Palantir was the subject of an effort to bury the facts in the memory hole. According to The Intercept, “Haines’s biography page at the Brookings Institute, where she is listed as a nonresident senior fellow, boasted of this affiliation until at least last week, when it suddenly no longer appeared on the page.

“The nature of the consulting work that Haines did for Palantir is not clear. As of press time, requests for comment to her, the Biden campaign, Palantir, and Brookings were not answered. Prior to being removed from the Brookings page, the connection to the data-mining company was listed alongside a long list of other affiliations that were similarly pared down.”

https://theintercept.com/2020/06/26/biden-adviser-avril-haines-palantir/?menu=1

Read more about Amazon’s relationship with Palantir here.

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Boycott Amazon Campaign

Church of Stop Shopping vs. Amazon

https://megaphone.link/PAN7194873857

Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping call out Jeff Bezos, acolyte of the great god Mammon (AKA money) in a protest outside Bezos’s NY home (on YouTube) and in a podcast about Bezos and Amazon’s crimes against the Earth (and its own workers).

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

Resisting Amazon is Fertile

https://mronline.org/2020/12/16/resisting-amazon-is-not-futile/

Excerpt:

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice had forced CEO Jeff Bezos into an extraordinary concession, pledging to move the company to 100 per cent renewable energy and net-zero carbon emissions. The tech workers were celebrating their power even though their numbers represented a minuscule fraction of the company’s fifty thousand Seattle workers. Imagine what power they would have if tech, logistics, and warehouse workers united and organized global majority unions at Amazon.

That’s daunting to conceive. Amazon is huge. It plays the central role in American capitalism’s distribution and logistics web and also in technology and its control of the internet through Amazon Web Services (AWS). Amazon’s worldwide employee head count is 1.2 million and growing every day. Its market valuation exceeds the national GDPs of more than 90 per cent of the world’s nations.

A Very Modern Challenge

In the last fifteen years, the company that began as an online bookseller has consolidated extraordinary monopolistic control over our daily lives, monetizing the activities of workers and consumers, honing surveillance systems inside and out of the workplace, driving economies, capturing governments around the world, and deploying vast resources to keep workers atomized, intimidated, permanently precarious, and disempowered.

The challenge of how to organize at a company so vast and apparently omnipotent, whose CEO is on the way to becoming the world’s first trillionaire, can seem utterly overwhelming, a futile exercise. And yet any credible working-class theory of taking on late-stage monopoly capitalism in today’s Gilded Age must answer the question of how to organize worker power at Amazon.

The Cost of Free Shipping: Amazon in the Global Economy (edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese and out by Pluto Press this year) doesn’t purport to provide a comprehensive road map for organizing. But in essays by the editors bookending seventeen curated articles from around the world, the book offers important insights into Amazon’s insidious nature, the challenges of organizing, and also some glimmers of organizing success at the local and national levels.

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

Amazon Squeezes Drivers as “Contractors”

Photo: Despite their Amazon-branded delivery vans and uniforms, subcontracted delivery drivers do not formally work for the e-commerce giant. Photo: Todd Van Hoosear, CC BY-SA 2.0.

https://labornotes.org/2020/12/building-its-own-delivery-network-amazon-puts-squeeze-drivers

EXCERPT:

In addition to Flex, the company is increasingly relying on its Delivery Service Partners program, rolled out in 2018. DSPs are small subcontracted parcel delivery firms with 20–40 delivery vans apiece—considered “independent” of Amazon, though they exclusively deliver packages for Amazon Prime customers.

Subcontracted Drivers

DSP fleets are limited to 40 vans to complicate unionization efforts and to increase Amazon’s flexibility and power over the price paid per delivery. Limiting their size makes it difficult for these small firms to gain leverage against Amazon. Each DSP manages between 40 and 100 employees.

Workers face extreme pressure to meet the demands of Amazon’s tight delivery terms. During peak holiday periods, the number of deliveries can reach as high as 400 per shift.

I live in Southern California, one of Amazon’s largest markets in the world. For years, it was most common here to see white unmarked delivery vans with workers wearing reflective vests hustling Amazon Prime packages through the streets. Today, however, most DSPs lease grey-blue Amazon-branded delivery vans and Amazon uniforms for their drivers. And yet, despite their appearance, these subcontracted delivery drivers do not formally work for Amazon.

The majority of these drivers in Southern California work eight- to 10-hour shifts and earn about $15 per hour. Many do not receive health insurance benefits.

These workers face extreme pressure to meet the demands of Amazon’s tight delivery terms. During peak holiday periods, the number of deliveries can reach as high as 400 per shift. Drivers complain of unpaid overtime, poor working conditions, and unrealistic expectations and pressures set by Amazon.

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign

Black Lives Matter LA Boycotts Amazon

On Saturday, December 19, Black Lives Matter L.A. held its final protest of the year. Their recent victories include driving D.A. Jackie Lacey from office for her adamant refusal to prosecute killer cops, and blocking LA Mayor Eric Garcetti from a position in Joe Biden’s cabinet because of his horrible record on dealing with LA’s houseless population, which is disproportionately Black, his terrible record on promoting gentrification and displacement, and his appointment of the rubber stamp Police Commission that functions as an apologist for one of the most murderous PDs in the country.

But BLM-LA and their allies were not just celebrating their victories — they were stepping up their critique of and opposition to “violent white capitalism” in their annual “Black Xmas” protest.

A couple of hundred people gathered at Yvonne Burke Park in Marina del Rey, a tony beach-front community of high-priced developments and hotels built on what were once unique brackish wet-lands, emphasizing their demand for more affordable housing in Los Angeles. They announced their intention to march to an Amazon location in the neighborhood to protest Amazon’s grotesque profit-taking during the pandemic, while the corporation condemned thousands of its workers to contracting COVID-19 or needing to supplement their incomes with food stamps, as well as working under onerous sweat-shop type speed-up conditions.

BDS-LA photos by Michael Novick

After traditional BLM LA rituals, including pouring libations to and saying the names of those killed by police, as well as of Black and African freedom fighters who have passed to the ancestors, the crowd of about 200 Black people and some white and other allies marched out of the park, along Admiralty Way and over to the site of Amazon Books, a brick-and-mortar Amazon store open to promote Christmas shopping. They were trailed by police, who also blocked the entrance to Fiji Way at Lincoln Blvd. where the Amazon store is located, from the opposite side from where the marchers were approaching. People gathered in the parking lot outside Amazon Books, facing a  flatbed truck with speakers, flags and sound equipment that had led the marchers over. Speakers denounced Amazon, and particularly “centibillionaire” owner Jeff Bezos. A member of the BLM-LA Youth Vanguard led the crowd in chants of “Power to the People.”

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Boycott Amazon Campaign

Amazon takes Pentagon to Court over JEDI Contract to Microsoft

JEDI is not Luke Skywalker or Obiwan Kenobi. It’s the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, worth up to a billion dollars a year for at least the next decade.

Sadly for Amazon, the Pentagon, home of the massive and misnamed US Department of “Defense” (DoD) awarded it to Microsoft in October 2019, and again — after Amazon’s complaints forced a do-over — in September 2020.

But Amazon is back in court, a little like Donald Trump or any movie super-villain that keeps coming back even after you think he’s dead for sure this time. 

https://www.nextgov.com/it-modernization/2020/12/amazon-pentagon-renew-jedi-legal-arguments/170830/

Excerpts:

The contract, which would put a commercial company in charge of global war cloud and swaths of secret and top secret data, could be worth up to $10 billion over the next decade. However, it was conceived nearly four years ago and has yet to get off the ground, having faced four separate legal challenges by various companies competing for it. JEDI remains under a court-ordered injunction.

On Wednesday, the court unsealed separate responses to AWS’ complaint filed by attorneys for the Defense Department and Microsoft. Attorneys for the Defense Department called AWS’ protest a “prohibited strategic gambit,” suggesting that AWS used the president’s public statements and tweets of dislike toward Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos as a means to cry bias if they lost JEDI.

In a statement responding to AWS’ complaint, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of communications, Frank Shaw, said, “Amazon seems to be saying the only way they can ever lose is if the procurement isn’t fair.” Shaw added, “But every month, the market tells them that’s not true. Large and sophisticated customers regularly choose Microsoft over AWS. They do this because of the strength of our technology, our understanding of complex projects, and our overall value.”

Categories
Boycott Amazon Campaign

Bezos Using Opportunity Zone Tax Breaks for Space Race with Musk

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-12-09/elon-musk-jeff-bezos-use-opportunity-zone-tax-breaks-for-private-space-race

Excerpt:

The world’s two richest men, who committed billions of dollars of their own money to a private space race, are now eligible for an extra boost from the federal government: a tax break intended to help poor communities.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk had competed for nearly a decade to develop engines and rockets through their privately owned space companies when the perk came their way in 2018. Their companies’ sites were included among the thousands of tracts across the U.S. designated as Qualified Opportunity Zones, part of President Donald Trump’s plan to use tax breaks to attract investments and jobs to distressed neighborhoods.

At the time, Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was building a launch operation along the Texas-Mexico border. Bezos’s Blue Origin had struck a deal to build a $200 million rocket engine plant in an Alabama research park. The companies had already committed to job creation and secured local tax breaks.

The billionaires’ qualification for the federal benefit, which hasn’t been previously reported, enables them to avoid capital gains taxes on money they steer into opportunity zone operations. Those investments can then grow tax-free, and if the billionaires keep their investments in place for a decade, any appreciation can be shielded from federal capital gains taxes forever.

Categories
Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Surveillance Capitalism

Amazon Wants Skintight Data

Amazon’s new “Halo” wearable device can listen to every word you say, determine your mood, and monitor your sleep.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/opinion/amazon-halo-surveillance.html

NY Times Op Ed EXCERPT:

Halo is Amazon’s attempt to compete with the Apple Watch and Google (which is awaiting approval of its acquisition of Fitbit) in the health-tracking arena. I got on the wait list for it as soon as it was introduced in the summer, and it arrived on Halloween. I strapped on the attractive band and turned on all the intrusive bells and whistles, which Amazon had trumpeted as good for me.

<snip>

The company has been on an endless quest for information about me (and you, too). The device widens the reach of the company’s personal-data grab, adding a user’s body tone and a body-fat analysis to the information it vacuums up, which required photos of me in as pared down a state of dress as possible.

<snip>

Doubling down on owning the consumption grid, Amazon last week announced a major push into the prescription drug arena, since it needs to move into ever bigger markets like health and wellness in order to keep up its explosive growth. The announcement of Amazon Pharmacy to deliver prescription drugs to the home sent the stock prices of drugstore chains crashing. …

In the last few weeks of using Halo, it finally clicked as to why Amazon needs a device that tracks sleep and movement and body fat and even body tone: An Echo is too far away from our bodies, and the consumer goods we order give the company much information about us but not enough. Amazon needs even more, and to be even closer — skintight — to understand the state of me at all times. Then the company can begin to really determine what I might need or want at any moment.

Another link and review:

Amazon Halo Review: The Fitness Gadget We Don’t Deserve or Need – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

Excerpt:

Another of Halo’s unique features is Tone, which uses the bracelet’s microphone to periodically eavesdrop on your conversations to tell you what your mood sounds like. I turned the feature off after two days because it felt like a creepy invasion of privacy. But I left it on long enough to complain to my wife about what a bad idea it was.

After analyzing the conversation, the Halo app said I sounded irritated and disgusted. That, at least, was accurate.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/12/10/amazon-halo-band-review/

Excerpt:

The Halo collects the most intimate information we’ve seen from a consumer health gadget — and makes the absolute least use of it.

This wearable is much better at helping Amazon gather data than at helping you get healthy and happy.

Since August, the Halo has been listed by Amazon as an “early access” product that requires an “invitation” to buy. (It will cost $100 plus a $4 monthly fee once it’s sold widely.) We’re reviewing the Halo now because Amazon’s first digital wellness product offers a glimpse of how one of tech’s most influential companies thinks about the future of health. And what could be better to do when we’re lonely during a pandemic than have an always-listening device point out our flaws? Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, but we review all technology with the same critical eye.

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Labor actions

Amazon Hiring Subsidized by You

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/27/technology/pushed-by-pandemic-amazon-goes-on-a-hiring-spree-without-equal.html

“Amazon is hiring…2,800 people a day.”

While news of new job opportunities seems positive, Tiffany D. Cross pointed out that “Amazon⁩ employees top the list of those receiving public assistance like SNAP. ”

EXCERPTS from NY Times article:

The scale of hiring is even larger than it may seem because the numbers do not account for employee churn, nor do they include the 100,000 temporary workers who have been recruited for the holiday shopping season. They also do not include what internal documents show as roughly 500,000 delivery drivers, who are contractors and not direct Amazon employees.

[Note: I wonder if Amazon had a hand in passsing CA’s Measure 22 which exempted delivery driver contractors, along with Uber and Lyft, from being classified as employees?]

Adding so many new workers so fast in a pandemic has been a herculean task. Many workers feared catching the coronavirus in warehouses, so Amazon rolled out a fleet of safety measures to address Covid-19. And it revved up its hiring machine, which relies on technology and traditional recruitment.

That includes promoting its training, benefits and pay. Of its 810,000 workers who are in the United States, about 85 percent are frontline employees in warehouses and operations who earn a minimum of $15 an hour. That is higher than traditional retail work, where an average sales worker makes $13.19 an hour, but lower than typical warehousing jobs.

[Note: Warehouse work, especially under Amazon’s speed-up policies, is a lot more physically demanding and taxing than traditional retail, and given the confined quarters and large staff, a lot likelier to spread COVID.]

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Amazon/Whole Foods Monopoly Power Boycott Amazon Campaign Labor actions

#BlackOutBezos

Today is Black Friday, the second busiest shopping day of the entire year.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is hoping to make billions of dollars between today and Cyber Monday, off of the work of thousands of warehouse employees across the country.

Warehouse workers at Amazon are twice as likely to be injured on the job than those in similar jobs.(1) Coronavirus cases are spiking but Amazon has ended its hazard pay and still does not have significant paid sick leave.(2) And while Bezos has made $70 billion since the start of the pandemic, warehouse employees in California aren’t being paid wages competitive to where they live.(3)

We’re encouraging everyone to shop local this Black Friday and Cyber Monday in order to support local businesses and send a strong message to Bezos that we won’t support his exploitation of warehouse workers.

Will you change your profile picture to our #BlackOutBezos image from today through Cyber Monday and help convince others to shop local?

Here are instructions for how to change your profile picture for various social medias: